There’s no doubt that businesses are becoming increasingly obsessed with digital marketing channels, with UK companies spending a total in excess of £129 billion on digital ads through 2021. 

Digital advertising is particularly popular among small businesses, particularly those who want to optimise their online presence and achieve an optimal ROI on their marketing spend.  

Remember, 81% of shoppers now conduct thorough research online before making a purchase, while the value of ecommerce revenue in expected to grow at an annual rate of 5.16% through 2025. 

In this post, we’ll explore digital advertising and its benefits in further detail, while appraising the best strategies to achieve success on behalf of your small business. 

What is Digital Advertising and How is it Different From Traditional Marketing? 

Let’s start with the basics; digital advertising encompasses a number of different online channels through which companies can promote their goods and services. 

These variable channels include website landing pages, blogs and social media profiles, along with online (or mobile) apps and any media that leverages an Internet connection to communicate with customers. 

Of course, such marketing channels have become increasingly popular and widely used in the digital age, particularly given the development of low-latency, 5G network technology and continued evolution of smartphones (more than four billion people on the planet now use their mobile handsets to connect to the Internet). 

This has helped to create an ongoing process of digital transformation among businesses small and large, which has, in turn, been accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic. 

During this time, ecommerce bloomed in the UK, while companies across a much broader range of market sectors have embraced digitisation. Prior to 2020, for example, just 27% of manufacturing leaders thought of digitisation as a priority, with this number having since doubled to an impressive 46%. 

Another key factor is the rapidly changing and evolving behaviour of customers, who have increasingly taken to researching and purchasing goods using online channels over the course of the previous decade.  

To this end, the total value of online retail sales was  £33.24 billion in 2012, with this more than doubling to £75.48 billion in the seven years to 2019. 

Once again, the coronavirus pandemic and its associated social distancing measures further changed consumer behaviour through 2020, with ecommerce retails sales peaking at £107.33 billion in 2020. Last year, the number increased further to £119.54 billion, while this trend shows no sign of abating anytime soon. 

In this respect, the rise of digital advertising can also be viewed as a process of migration and adaptation, as companies react to changing customer behaviour and the constantly shifting technological landscape that surrounds them. 

But what are the core differences between digital marketing and more traditional channels? We’ve outlined some of the most important below: 

  • #1. You Can Collate More Consumer Data Online: From the moment a lead is generated online to the eventual conversion through a website, digital marketing channels create multiple opportunities to gather customer data and monitor their behaviour. This makes it easier to build accurate consumer profiles and develop a greater understanding of their wants and needs, while allowing you to tailor your content and promotions accordingly. 
  • #2. Combine Technical and Onsite Elements for Superior Results: If you appraise popular digital marketing channels like SEO, you’ll find both technical and onsite elements that also allow for far greater efficiency and improved lead generation over time. Technical SEO includes components such as making landing pages quicker to load and easier to crawl, optimising the performance of your website and ensuring that customers are more likely to buy. 
  • #3. It’s Easier to Specify Your Audience: With traditional advertising channels such as television, brands are compelled to buy space at a specific point in time. Because of this, however, there’s minimal flexibility or control over the viewing audience, contributing to an expensive ad channel that may not deliver an optimal return. However, through digital channels like social media, campaigns can be far more segmented and targeted towards a specific demographic (according to the consumer profiles referenced earlier). 
  • #4. You Can Monitor Customer Actions in Real-Time: Often, traditional marketing campaigns are quite inflexible as you usually have to wait for an extended period of time before appraising their efficacy and the impact of individual creatives. However, digital advertising channels enable you to monitor and review the impact of marketing actions in real-time, creating more agile campaigns that can be adapted to reflect live customer behaviour. 
  • #5. Enjoy Better Control Over Your Campaigns and Messaging: Ultimately, each of these benefits translates into greater control over your campaigns, while they also optimise the return on your marketing spend and ability to monitor results more accurately in real-time. So, not only are your individual campaigns empowered to perform better over time, but you’re presented with continual opportunities to improve and refine your messaging. 

Your Digital Marketing Strategy – The Key Considerations 

Now that you have an understanding of digital advertising and its unique characteristics, the next step is to develop a viable strategy that’s actionable and capable of delivering a desirable return on your marketing spend. 

Every successful marketing strategy starts with planning and research, particularly in relation to your core business objectives and the profile of your average consumer. This process includes: 

  • Defining Your Company Goals: This would require you to outline the motivation behind your marketing campaign and the role that it would play in achieving wider business goals (such as building brand awareness or marketing a brand new range). This process can be quite involved from a strategic perspective, while it’s possible to have several motivations for creating a new marketing campaign. 
  • Evaluating Your Business Resources: While digital advertising is often more cost-effective than traditional media like television and radio, your campaign will still require a budget. So, it’s important to evaluate the financial and human capital that you have at your disposal and understand how this can help to shape your campaign. 
  • Understanding Your Customer: As we’ve already touched on, digital ad channels make it easier to adopt marketing segmenting strategies and develop a deeper understanding of different target audiences. Given the large datasets available online, it’s even possible to build a detailed buyer persona for your products and services, enabling you to refine your campaigns and the precise digital channels that you intend to use. 

Following these processes helps you to define the precise reason for your campaign and establish a viable budget, while also creating insightful customer personas that detail how you target market researches and buys products. From here, you can make the following decisions:

#1. What Digital Channels Will You Use to Target Customers?  

You can build this aspect of your strategy based on your budget and core target markets. So, while you may incorporate staple digital techniques such as email and PPC (pay-per-click) marketing, you may customise your wider use of channels depending on how your customers like to receive information.  

This rule is particularly relevant when integrating social media platforms into your campaigns, as each one tends to have a different primary focus and demographic split. 

For example, craft-oriented firms with a largely female audience may want to ensure that Pinterest is at the heart of their social media marketing drive. 

Of this platform’s 430 million monthly active users, 76.7% were female as of January 2022, while the site places a heavy emphasis on craft ideas and inspiration.  

Pinterest also enables you to leverage organic content to engage your target audience, creating a cost-effective marketing channel that offers relevant exposure among interested customers. 

#2. How to Create an Integrated Campaign 

Not only do the best marketing drives feature a number of relevant digital channels, but modern iterations also tend to incorporate offline media as part of truly integrated campaigns. 

Despite the rising popularity of integrated marketing campaigns, however, execution remains a significant challenge for brands.  

This is borne out by the statistics, which suggest that while 89% of marketers currently believe that their strategies have been integrated well, just 58% of customers would agree with this statement. 

The key is ensure that your total marketing spend is distributed across a number of different channels and platforms, based on your budget, the behaviour of your target market and the typical customer journey undertaken by consumers. 

For example, small businesses may utilise a cost-effective but highly immersive medium such as billboards (and similar out-of-home media), to raise awareness of their brand within specific catchment areas. 

However, they may also use billboards to drive traffic online, either through a website or branded social media platform. Remember, OOH is now considered to be the most effective offline channel for driving online activations (particularly through Twitter and Instagram), people who see such campaigns are 17% more likely to engage with the brand through their smartphone. 

This type of integrated campaign can help you to optimise assisted conversions throughout the typical customer journey, while it also ensures that you leverage digital marketing channels to their maximum potential.

#3. The Importance of Measurement 

We’ve previously spoken about how digital advertising channels offer access to huge swathes of real-time data, making it possible to measure the efficacy of individual campaigns as they unfold. 

Not only does this offer a key competitive advantage when compared with traditional marketing, but it also allows for real-time adjustments to be made depending on how customers are reacting to specific content. 

Make no mistake; there are a myriad of digital marketing metrics available, depending on the precise nature of your campaign and chosen channels. 

For example, you can use metrics such as mobile traffic and traffic sources to determine how people are discovering your website and specific landing pages, allowing you to adjust your budget and marketing spend to invest more in the most effective techniques. 

Similarly, you can gauge the average time spent per visit by individual customers, which may offer an insight into the quality of your content and ability to engage customers. 

The key is to identify the best and most insightful metrics in relation to your individual campaigns, while acting on the information provided to actively improve your efforts. 

Why is Digital Marketing So Important for Modern Businesses? 

At this stage, it’s important to consider the key advantages offered by digital marketing and why it’s such an important consideration for businesses (particularly SMEs) in the current climate. 

Firstly, we’ll look at the generic reasons why your venture needs to leverage digital marketing in 2022, before exploring some of the more precise benefits afforded by online ad campaigns. 

  • #1. Affordability: While not all digital channels have been created equal, they’re typically more affordable and accessible than traditional alternatives. For example, advertisers paid an average CPM (cost per thousand impressions) of $17.50 for cable TV ads in 2018-19, with this rising to $32 for national broadcasts. Conversely, the average CPM on the Google display network during the same period was just $2.80, creating significant savings on your overall marketing spend without forcing you to compromise on the quality of your campaigns. 
  • #2. Mobile Access: On the subject of accessibility, digital marketing also enables brands to capture the real-time attention of customers through their smartphone. This is crucial, as the number of smartphone owners in the UK is projected to reach 64.9 million by 2025, while a staggering 66.7% of UK shoppers switched to mcommerce through 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. So, digital advertising allows brands to target customers while they’re on the move and at specific times when they’re most likely to engage with brands. 
  • #3. Flexibility: At its core, digital marketing is a diverse and highly versatile practice, and one that includes channels such as banner ads, content marketing and social media interaction. Such channels can be combined to create increasingly flexible and segmented campaigns, which target multiple demographics simultaneously and optimise your marketing ROI over time. Combined with the ability to constantly test and measure campaigns in real-time, digital marketing provides incredible flexibility in the age of the changeable and increasingly savvy consumer. 
  • #4. Automation: Last, but not least, it’s important to consider that digital marketing allows for large-scale automation. This can translate into increased efficiency and further reductions in your marketing spend, especially from the perspective of minimising staffing costs and empowering your employees to work on more strategic campaign components. Automation can have a positive impact during multiple stages of your marketing campaign, even when dealing with third-parties such as influencers (we’ll have more on this below).

Each of these points leads into more specific advantages for businesses, which further reinforce the importance of digital advertising in 2022. 

We’ve broken some of these benefits down below, while appraising what they mean for companies in terms of cost and profitability.

  • #1. Generating Better Quality Leads: If you consider the broad ability of digital marketing to target huge mass markets in real-time (especially through search engine queries and social media), it makes sense that online channels should help generate better quality leads for your venture. This is particularly true when creating targeted campaigns that are built on the observed habits and behaviour of your customers, while we’ve already touched on how it’s much cheaper to generate a large number of impressions with a much smaller marketing spend online. 
  • #2. Attracting and Engaging Subscribers: Historically, businesses in search of subscribers would just buy an existing email list and target recipients with generic messages. However, this doesn’t guarantee the requisite quality of subscribers or a viable return on your investment, so it’s far better to use targeted digital marketing strategies that engage specific audiences and incentivise them to sign-up to your brand. From an engagement perspective, social media is an excellent resource for targeting subscribers, especially with incentives like free products or complimentary trial periods. 
  • #3. Segmenting to Maximise Relevance: Once you have a broad base of subscribers and customers, you can begin to use segmentation software to divide this into different (and actionable) demographics. From here, you can optimise your content creation and distribution strategies, ensuring that you engage individual audiences with relevant messaging while maximising your marketing ROI. This also allows for personalised messaging, with 80% of customers more likely to buy from brands that offer a tailored journey and experience.  
  • #4. Automate Key Elements of Your Campaigns: Overall, some 51% of businesses now use some form of marketing automation software, with this particularly popular among B2B firms. It’s well known that firms who use email marketing automation increase the rate at which they nurture leads into qualified conversions by 451%, while AI (artificial intelligence) software can also be used to automate manual tasks such as selecting influencers to work with your business and create effective outreach campaigns.

OK, So What are the Best Digital Marketing Strategies? 

Before we go, we also thought we’d discuss some of the best individual digital marketing channels and strategies.  

There’s certainly a huge range to choose from in 2022, so we’ve outlined five of the best for you to consider.

#1. Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) Media 

Digital signage and billboards have become increasingly influential in the out-of-home (OOH) media space of late, accounting for an incrementally higher share of the total marketplace year-on-year.  

To this end, DOOH accounted for 28.3% of all out-of-home ads published in 2019, while this figure is forecast to increase to 38.3% by the end of 2023. 

Not only are digital billboards becoming increasingly accessible and effective in the modern age, but they’re also relatively affordable when compared with television, print or radio advertising. 

Remember, OOH media as a whole accounts for 26% of the gross online search activations generated by print, radio, television and out-of-home advertising, while being responsible for just 7% of the total spend. So, while DOOH is a little more expensive than traditional billboards, it’s still a relatively cost-effective option for small and medium-sized businesses to consider. 

Ultimately, DOOH bridges the gap between digital and traditional marketing channels, while driving optimal assisted conversions through social media and mobile channels. 

#2. Social Media Marketing (SMM) 

Few digital channels offer access to as large or diverse an audience as social media, with the total number of users across all platforms increasing to a staggering 4.62 billion in 2022. 

This represents an impressive 93.4% of all Internet-connected people, making it possible for brands to target vast audiences without spending huge amounts of their budget. 

In fact, it’s possible to build highly engaging SMM campaigns using organic and relevant content, which costs nothing to produce other than human endeavour and creativity.  

Even when incorporating paid ads through sites such as Facebook or outsourcing the management of your SMM campaign , you can spend as little as £300 per month on average and maintain a presence across multiple platforms.

#3. Email Marketing 

Similar to SMM, email marketing also allows you to target a vast and engaged audience. After all, there currently 4.3 billion email users active in the world, while this number is expected to increase incrementally to 4.6 billion by 2025. 

Email marketing has also emerged as one of the most cost-effective digital channels due to the processes of modernisation and digital transformation, with the use of creative, well-written and personalised content not necessarily dependent on a significant cash investment. 

What’s more, email marketing is one of the best channels from the perspective of optimising your ROI. In fact, you can expect to receive an average return of £42 for every £1 spent through email marketing, with this based on data collated through 2019. 

All things told, email marketing is one of the best and most effective digital marketing strategies in 2022, particularly from the perspective of maximising your starting budget and eventual return.

#4. Influencers 

The use of influencer marketing has enjoyed exponential growth since 2016, when the global market was worth just $1.7 billion in total. 

By 2021, this sum had soared to a staggering $13.8 billion, while it’s forecast to expand further to become a $16.4 billion industry by the end of 2022. 

With influencer marketing, you can effectively create organic messaging and content that’s shared through a trusted ambassador, who offers access to a relevant and targeted audience that’s most likely to engage with your products or services. 

From a cost perspective, the average influencer budget is between £1,000 and £10,000 per year, with this varying depending on the profile of influencers used and nature of the industry in which you operate. 

Interestingly, micro influencers offer a more affordable option to smaller businesses, with such individuals known to boast particularly engaged communities that may offer more value despite being smaller than more established influencers. 

#5. PPC (Pay-Per-Click) 

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a tried-and-trusted Internet advertising model, which is commonly used to drive online traffic to websites. 

Through this model, advertisers pay published a fixed amount when specific adverts are clicked by customers, with this channel thought to offer an average ROI of 200% (meaning you’ll recoup £2 for every £1 spent). 

While this ROI doesn’t compare favourably to email marketing, it offers excellent levels of exposure to businesses, while the use of paid Google ads is thought to boost brand awareness by as much as 80% over time. 

This is worthy of consideration, although small businesses may struggle to initially invest in PPC advertising on a large scale. After all, the average yearly cost of PPC ranges between £108,000 and £120,000, which will consume a considerable portion of smaller marketing budgets.

The Bottom Line 

So, there you have it; our comprehensive guide to digital advertising, its primary channels and benefits from the perspective of small and medium-sized businesses. 

As you can see, digital marketing is home to a huge and diverse range of channels, while it also offers access to highly engaging and cost-effective advertising campaigns that deliver an improved ROI over time. 

When combined with the use of OOH media and digital billboards as part of increasingly integrated campaigns, online marketing channels can be particularly effective from the perspective of engaging customers and driving assisted conversions throughout the typical consumer journey.